Iraqi Christians Risk Being Killed by ISIS as Church Leaders Debate Whether to Stay or Flee

(Photo: Reuters/Mohamed Azakir)Iraqi families displaced by the violence in their country receive aid from a Chaldean Catholic Church truck in Beirut, Lebanon, August 13, 2014. Well financed and armed, Islamic State insurgents have captured large swathes of territory in a summer offensive, as the Iraqi army. Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the self-governing north have crumbled in the face of its onslaught, massacring Shi'ites and minority Christians and Yazidis as they advance.

Chaldean Christians are caught in the middle of a "furious debate" over whether they should stay in their ancestral home in Iraq despite the ongoing genocide at the hands of the Islamic State terror group, or flee as refugees.

Fox News reported Thursday that the debate is causing fractions within the Chaldean community, with Baghdad-based Patriarch Sako, who aligns with Pope Francis and the Vatican, urging Christians to stay put and not to abandon their homeland despite the atrocities being carried out by IS.

The other side of the debate is spearheaded by Bishop Sarhad Jammo, who has called on Chaldeans to flee for their own survival.

Mark Arabo, the national spokesperson for the American-Chaldean community and founder of the California-based Minority Humanitarian Foundation, who sides with Jammo, has called on the United States government to step up its efforts to help relocate and resettle Christians.

"We wanted to ensure that people who wanted to leave had the means to do so, but we also supported those who wished to stay," Arabo said.

He added that Christians simply have no other choice but to seek refugee status.

"You cannot preserve a culture when the people are being systematically exterminated," he added. "During genocide, politics must be an afterthought to the lives of Christian families."

Sako warned, however, that a large exodus will lead to Christianity disappearing from its ancestral lands.

"A Christian community that was born in these lands cannot organize exodus trips that will mark its distinction," Sako has said.

Other Christian leaders, such as Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III, have also spoken out on the issue, and warned that if Christians flee in masses as refugees, the religion will be wiped out from the region.

"The almost communal wave of youth emigration, especially in Syria, but also in Lebanon and Iraq breaks my heart, wounding me deeply and dealing me a deadly blow," Gregorios said in 2015.

"Given this tsunami of emigration ... what future is left for the Church? What will become of our homeland? What will become of our parishes and institutions?" he asked.

The IS-led genocide of Christians and other religious minorities has had a devastating impact on local Christian communities, with Christians in Iraq declining from 1.5 million in 2003 to less than 275,000 today. The terror group has in some cases been forcing Christians to choose between their lives and converting to Islam, or giving them the option to pay a very high tax.

Juliana Taimoorazy, a Chaldean Catholic and ethnic Assyrian, said in April that Christians both in Iraq and Syria are on the "brink of extinction."

"We gave a lot to Christianity as Eastern Christians, and we gave a lot to humanity as the Assyrian people: Our history is 6,700 years old, and we established the first library in the world, among other contributions," added Taimoorazy, who is the executive director and founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council.